Braves roster preview: Infield should be one of baseball’s best

Third base is the center of the Braves’ infield conversation. Johan Camargo and Austin Riley will compete for the job in spring and, given the situation’s fluidity, quite possibly through the summer. Camargo enters camp the favorite, providing a more known quantity. Yet while Camargo possesses the higher floor, Riley’s ceiling is tantalizing as a middle-of-the-order slugger.

A healthy Freddie Freeman returns to man first base. Freeman is coming off an MVP-caliber season that suffered an untimely derailing due to a bone spur, one factor in the Braves’ disappointing postseason demise. Freeman, as always, is the key to the offense. He’s still the Braves’ most well-rounded player and clubhouse leader.

Ozzie Albies is primed for another big year at second base. The switch-hitter just missed his second All-Star berth in as many seasons, and 2020 feels like the year he could explode. Shortstop Dansby Swanson had an impressive first half before a heel injury chopped his season. He’s a known product, though it still feels there could be more to unlock.

Roster locks (2019 stats)

1B Freddie Freeman (.295/.389/.549, 38 HRs, 121 RBIs)
2B Ozzie Albies (.295/.352/.500, 24 HRs, 86 RBIs)
3B Johan Camargo (.233/.279/.384, 7 HRs, 32 RBIs)
SS Dansby Swanson (.251/.325/.422, 17 HRs, 65 RBIs)
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (.241/.299/.443, 9 HRs, 43 RBs)

On the bubble

3B Austin Riley (could open season in Triple-A)
UTL Charlie Culberson
UTL Yangervis Solarte
UTL Pete Kozma

Key stat: 15

Johan Camargo’s conditioning was an under-the-radar issue throughout his 2019 season. He’s had a stellar offseason of workouts, according to coaches and teammates, and Camargo said he dropped 15 pounds. Camargo received a jolt of extra motivation through the winter, well-aware that if the team didn’t retain Josh Donaldson, he’d be penciled in as the third baseman. That thought became reality, and Camargo is again positioned to handle the bulk of third-base duties.

Key player: Swanson

It would be easy to tap Camargo here. Or Freeman, who could again thrust himself into the MVP conversation. But Swanson is the Braves’ greatest variable. Specifically, on offense, where a 2019 first-half repeat across a full season could complete the team’s lineup. The Braves have an obvious dropoff after their top four in the order. They need someone to break out. Why not a healthy Swanson?

What to watch for over the season

If the infield stays healthy, it’s a lock to be among the National League’s best. Freeman and Albies alone give the group a tremendous offense, but how Swanson, Camargo and Riley factor in will determine just how potent the unit becomes. In the field, there are few questions. Freeman, Albies and Swanson are plus defenders. Camargo and Riley can hold their own.

Freeman and Albies should compete for All-Star honors. Camargo and Riley are tasked with holding down the fort, and should they not, the Braves will be shopping for third-base help in July. Swanson is the great wild card, and how his season progresses will be integral to the Braves’ hopes to not only make the postseason, but finally advance. Remember: While much of the offense stalled in last year’s NLDS, Swanson looked like a star. Perhaps that’s something to build on.